Houston Rockets @ LA Clippers: feat. Fred Katz of Clipper Blog

Teams: Houston Rockets at Los Angeles Clippers
Time: 10:30 p.m. ET
Venue: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
Television: ESPN

Notes:  Of the teams James Harden has played at least twice this season, only the OKC Thunder have managed to suppress Harden the way the Clippers have.  Against LA, Harden has averaged 35 mpg, 13.5 ppg on 32 FG% and 8 3pt% (EIGHT PERCENT!!!).

Luckily for the Rockets, JJ Redick will not suit up tonight due to his myriad of injuries.  Redick battered Houston in their first two meetings to the tune of 24 ppg (well above his season avg of 15.7) on 53 FG% and 36 3pt%.

Insider’s View – Q&A with Fred Katz of Clipper Blog.  Follow Fred on Twitter @FredKatz.

MF – I expected (and hoped, for the Rockets’ sake) that the Clippers would struggle without Chris Paul in the lineup, but they were 12-6 without their leader.  Blake Griffin showed a surprising amount of growth during that stretch.  How has his game developed this year to allow him to still flourish without CP3?  

FK – It all started once Griffin began to make his free throws consistently. That really seemed to open up his game. He became more confident going to the hoop. His jump shot opened up the floor, and his 39 percent on a high volume of mid-range jumpers is more than respectable. Griffin used to shy away from going to the line. This year, he’s taking almost three more free throws per 36 minutes than last season. Add in that he’s the only natural power forward in the league who can get a defensive rebound and either go coast-to-coast or lead a fast break and consistently make good decisions, and it’s no wonder why he’s averaged 27.9 points and 3.9 assists over his past 29 games.

I still hold that JJ Redick is the one responsible for all the “James Harden is terrible on defense” noise.  Harden is by no means a stopper, but Redick torched him on national television and put up two of his best scoring nights of the season against Houston earlier this season.  How different is the Clips offense with Redick sidelined?

Amazingly different. And not just in terms of quality, but also in terms of style. There are so many plays that the Clippers can’t run without their starting 2 guard. It’s not just Redick’s shooting that helps the Clipper offense. There’s also the off-ball movement which gets defenses stirring. Chris Paul is the type of point guard who waits to dissect a D. He’s the most patient point guard in the league. The more a defense rotates, the more likely he is to find a mistake and pounce. Redick gets those defenses to move. He opens up the Clipper playbook. With him gone (even though Jamal Crawford has played as well as he possibly could), the Clippers lose that aspect of their game and become much more stagnant.

What do you expect to be the biggest change with the team now that Glen Davis has signed?  And are there any indications as to when he’ll suit up for the Clips?

Davis is expected to suit up Wednesday night against Houston. Finally, the Clippers have a third big man. Look, I’m not delusional. I realize Big Baby is a mid-range heavy player, who has taken more contested 18-footers than good shots over the past couple of seasons. But it’s incredibly likely that was more a product of situation and less a product of personal preference. The Orlando offense has anemic tendencies and Jacque Vaughn seems to be prone to doing anything that might stunt the growth of his younger bigs (see: Jason Maxiell’s early-season playing time). “Large Infant” won’t take those sorts of shots playing with Chris Paul or Griffin if he plays with the starters. Jamal Crawford won’t let him take his shots with the second unit. And even if Davis ends up playing as badly as possible, he’s still an upgrade for the Clippers off the bench.

Has there been any real, tangible growth with DeAndre Jordan, or is he simply just getting more minutes?

Yes. So much. He’s growing faster than Jack’s beanstalk. It used to be just theory, but with the arrival of Doc Rivers, it’s become pretty clear that Vinny Del Negro didn’t do much to help DeAndre Jordan’s game or confidence. Every time Jordan made a mistake last year, he was out of the game at the next whistle. You could tell he was miserable. You could tell he was stunted. It was one of those rare times you could see something not happening. There was no development at all. This year, that’s all different. His rebounds are up from 10.6 per 36 minutes last year to 14.0 per 36 this season. Now, he’s leading the league in boards. He’s rotating better on the defensive end. He’s not as aggressive defending the pick-and-roll, an effect of a new system as much as anything else. He’s probably become one of the six or seven best defensive centers in the NBA. And that is a huge improvement above all else.

What’s been the biggest difference with the team since upgrading from Vinny Del Negro to Doc Rivers?

Um, everything? The offensive sets are more creative (credit Alvin Gentry for that as well). The young players are actually developing. DeAndre Jordan has gotten better. Blake Griffin has gotten better. Last year, you could argue those players regressed. Even Jamal Crawford is having a better year and is playing a little bit of defense…for Jamal Crawford.

True or False:  The Clippers really feel like they have a shot at LeBron this summer?

False. The Clippers are strong enough at the top to win a championship right now. They have a good enough coach. They have a talented enough three or four best players. Where they need improvement is at the margins.

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